“I’ve been dealing with anxiety for as long as I can remember,” says Sow Ay, an illustrator who sketches brutally honest cartoons about his ongoing struggle with mental illness.

“A few days ago I was diagnosed with panic disorder. It took a lot of time because I was scared to talk about it. But I could no longer live with it, so I’m glad I did talk about it,” he tells The Independent.

Although he was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety and depression “after a burnout” in 2016, he has been dealing with anxiety for as long as he can remember.

Drawing has been an outlet for him since childhood, but his artworks weren’t always so serious. “At school, I loved drawing to make my friends laugh,” he says.

“I’ve always been sharing my work online. To make people laugh, or to share my story. But it all became way more dark last year,” he says.

At first, he was nervous about sharing his most personal work online. “In real life, I always avoid talking about how I feel. I was scared about the reaction people could have about suddenly discovering I could no longer work. But at the same time, that’s maybe a great way to show how powerful mental illnesses can be.

“I was really scared to draw such personal things. I was scared to see people laughing at me, scared to see them telling me everything is just in my head. I was scared they were right. I think I needed to feel less alone.”

“It a great way to express myself: a way to clean up my thoughts and brain so I don’t get crazy.”

The public response to his work, he says, has been “incredible.”

“I cried when I discovered I was not alone in this and when I received tons of emails thanking me for the help. I’ve never imagined I could be of any help to anyone. I feel so useful and proud now.”

– Kashmira Gander

Read more: 18 brutally honest illustrations about struggling with mental illness

Illustration Source: Sow Ay

Image by Fernando from Unsplash